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What NOT To Do When Children Aren’t Doing Well In School

Jane-Doe, a caring girl with her classmates most of the time, did well in school when things were going well at home.  Then she suddenly began showing up in school late, being disruptive in class. She developed a don’t care attitude to most of her school work…and teachers for that matter. Even her friends started asking for intervention because something was obviously wrong with their precious friend and she wasn’t listening to them.

I intervened and quickly helped her family solve a problem that was getting volatile at home. But this behavior became a pattern over the years she was in school. She came to the brink of failing the entire year more than once. Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult to pull her family to work as a team with me to get her out of it each time.

Some TLP Conclusions on Family Engagement & Academic Motivation

In the last few posts we’ve talked about:

  1. Some of the most important things  parents often take for granted. If they’re not in place, children WILL show up in the classroom unmotivated, and may not give school-work an honest effort. Some are in the home; others are at school
  2. TLP’s approach in the home, which takes advantage of scientific research, and recommends ways to beef-up your leadership style for your family
  3. Serious limitations that certain children often face–limitations that can sabotage your child’s academic motivation without professional help
  4. How the school system tends to work in most places, and the central role of parents in that process
  5. A closer look at the relationship between the home and the school, and how it has a direct bearing on school grades. We concluded that you should regard family engagement not only as a significant part of academic motivation that most people take for granted without fully understanding it
  6. Some tips to bear in mind as you work with TLP or any other online resource you choose to keep upgrading your skills in assisting children to get the most out of themselves from kindergarten through college.

Today I want to pick up where I left off on the piece about why the family engagement issue isn’t being tackled head-on despite widespread belief in it’s effectiveness.

What’s happening, Why it’s a huge mistake, and why we keep nibbling around the edges of the problem.

What’s Behind the Half-Measured Approach

I think most of the time each side that’s supposed to work at the problem of insufficient family engagement, only pay it half the attention it deserves.

Let’s sum it up like this:  Teachers have had bad experiences trying to get the message across to some parents that they’re not doing enough. Parents have had bad experiences in meetings where they came looking for help and got insulted or embarrassed instead.

Who’s to blame, really?

The short answer is.. “wrong question.” Believe me there’s enough blame to go around for every single one of us. Instead, let’s take a constructive look at what we’re all facing.

First off, the school system already is biased against more than half of our children.  They simply were not designed to teach those things very well, because they were built using a model that the corporate world invented to serve it’s own needs. This is why alternative types of training started to skyrocket from as far back as the 1970’s in developed countries. That revolution is going to continue and spread world-wide.

Until education catches up however, we’re going to continue having a large group of children who just simply need more input from their families than others. Less family engagement is needed for abstract thinkers. Schools as we know it was designed to get the most of those kind of learners already.

Second, teachers, parents, and society at large still doesn’t fully comprehend what I just mentioned. On a whole, society still behaves as if something is wrong with Johnny just because he prefers spending his time doing something physical, yet can’t seem to focus long enough to learn long-division. It flies in the face of all reason, but we still think and behave as if Johnny is the problem. It’s not Johnny. It’s how education is organized.

As long as we’re going to keep insisting that Johnny needs to learn long-division because he’ll find it difficult to survive without it, Johnny will need a lot more input from his teacher, and a whole lot more input from his family as well. More so than his classmate who has little trouble with Math.

A Call For Compassion and Cooperation

Which brings us to the third and final point. Everyone around Johnny will need to put their heads together to get him to take an interest in long division and other skills like that. Finding who’s to blame does nothing to help.

There just has to be a really genuine attitude of cooperation.. of everyone humbly working hand in hand to come up with just the right set of approaches that will help Johnny to understand that yes, he can learn long-division; no he won’t have to learn it as fast as the math whiz in class; no the math-whiz in class is neither a weirdo nor a genius alien, and they actually have a lot in common if they both took the time to talk to one another.

Do teachers often fall short of that ideal. Do parents? Yes and yes. But they’re not to blame either. Our society has just evolved to a place where rapid change needs to take place and we weren’t ready for it.  Even in a perfect world, each child has a unique need for us to interact with him or her in ways that are different from every other child.

Societies have been making giant strides in this, but not enough. We all need to catch up. That’s a big part of TLP’s manifesto.

So we need you to help us spread the word too. Both families and schools have been careful of stepping on each other’s toes… resulting in doing the work halfway, as my Mother used to put it. This is a disaster because building family engagement is like building a bridge to the other side of the river. It’s all or nothing. You can’t build it halfway and expect it to work.

Caveat: Working with Therapists

I have a pet peeve when I do referrals and the therapist doesn’t see the benefit, or doesn’t want to make the effort, to assist the school with helping the student generalize her treatment gains. By generalize, I mean to help us give teachers and parents ways to reinforce whatever skills the student is learning from the therapist.

I’m talking here about kids with severe behavior problems, defiant disorders, children older than 12 years of age or are seriously aggressive with others.

What most people don’t know is that even when the entire family is being trained by a therapist in such cases, its too much to expect behavior to change within school walls unless a conscious effort is made for that to happen. I strongly believe the wonderful work that child psychologists and Family Counselors do with children is mostly wasted when they don’t do this.

The research is clear on this matter. For every group of folks that have to interact with the child on a regular basis, if the therapist doesn’t work with them to some extent, treatment gains across settings and over time suffers.

I admit freely that I refuse to refer cases to such professionals. After all, I do work in a school. Schools obviously care about what happens in classrooms too–not just at home. So I ask for help in that area as well. As a parent, if you’re working with a therapist, make a point of asking for this. It’s in everyone’s best interest, but more so for you and your child.

The Pitfalls of Inaction and Half-Measures (What NOT to do)

Even for milder cases, If you do nothing…or if you don’t take a strong enough action to turn things around, the damage is likely to be heavy in the child’s life over time. Working almost exclusively in private settings with these students, I experience two things first-hand that are opposites of each other. The first may come as a surprise to you.

First, I learned that if there is a chronic case, my time is better spent working directly with parents, family members, the neighborhood, or sometimes all three. Fix a leaky boat, and it still goes nowhere if no one is rowing; it still won’t reach where it’s supposed to go without a rudder.

I can work with the student herself for many hours a day, but if someone she has a warm relationship with in her every-day living environment is not on board, I’m wasting my time.

And second, most of the time the last thing Johnny needs is discipline, lectures or a good talking to. I’m not going to go deep here. Even though I painted the broad picture already, I DO need to do so in upcoming posts.  Who’s with me so far? Let me know what’s not clear. Inbox me in Facebook or the comments below. The content for 2018 depends on your feedback.

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